Rise of the Boxtop

James Kraus

1962 Ford Galaxie 500 XL.

The term Boxtop is generally applied to 1960s Ford products and describes a roof with broad slab-sided, roughly parallelogram-shaped C-pillars and a rather upright decidedly non-fastback rear window. The ideal Boxtop requires clear visual delineation between the roof and body at both the top of the A-pillars and base of the C-pillars and rear window.

It is not to be confused with the faux convertible top first seen on a number of ’62 General Motors models; those were similarly visually divorced from the lower body, but had stamped-in creases directly mimicking the soft folding top of a convertible.

Boxtops and faux convertible tops began supplanting slender C-pillar bubble-style tops that reigned supreme in the 1950s.

Pre-Boxtop 1958 Ford Fairlane 500.

The Boxtop was born of necessity, debuting on the 1957 Ford Skyliner retractable hardtop convertible.

1957 Ford Skyliner.

The Skyliner’s design dictated a flat and fairly broad C-pillar in order to accommodate the full movement arc of the forward articulating arm that lowered and lifted the top, as well as to conserve luggage space when the top was down. The roof visually appeared to be a separate entity from the body, because of course it was a completely separate item.

Ford designers were apparently quite smitten with the roof design as it featured prominently on the all-new four-seat 1958 Thunderbird. Even though it was fixed in position, the new T-Bird’s roof looked like it could actually be easily removed for al fresco motoring due to the clear aesthetic demarcation between it and the lower body.

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1958 Ford Thunderbird.

The Boxtop roof would remain a fixture of Thunderbird styling through 1966, occasionally marred by the application of ersatz landau bars.

Ford added a new top range model to their full-size line in the spring of 1959: the Galaxie. Distinguishing the new car from the less-pricey Fairlane 500 was a new Boxtop roofline that Ford marketers touted as bestowing Thunderbird Elegance.

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1959 Ford Galaxie.

In March of 1960, Ford placed a Boxtop on the new Comet, which spread to full-size Mercury models for 1961.

Meanwhile at Chrysler, the formal privacy-style roofline of the Imperial began a slow morphing into a planer, more rectilinear shape, achieving a Ford-like Boxtop style in ‘64.

Ford’s all-new 1962 Fairlane featured a Boxtop, and in mid-year, Ford released the Falcon Sports Futura with a Boxtop-like roof (borrowed from the Comet) making it now available on every model line in the Ford showroom.

1962 Ford Falcon Sports Futura.

A few short months later, Ford launched the Fairlane Sports Coupe with a more extreme Boxtop roof design that was a near duplicate to the one used on the ’59 Galaxie.

1963 Ford Fairlane Sports Coupe.

Ironically, as Ford introduced the new Fairlane Sports Coupe Boxtop, they simultaneously replaced the Boxtop with a new semi-fastback Sports Roof on Galaxie two-door hardtops.

The new look was wildly successful, and the fastback trend of the mid-sixties that it helped launch dealt a setback to the Boxtop roof style, yet it returned briefly on many ’65 and ’66 full-size Fords.

1965 Ford Galaxie 500 Four-Door Hardtop.

For its last hurrah, Ford offered two Boxtop roofs on their ’66 Thunderbird, one with a massive traditional parallelogram C-pillar, and a gargantuan privacy-style Über-Boxtop with a C-pillar so wide as to completely usurp the rear quarter windows.

1966 Ford Thunderbird Hardtop.

1966 Ford Thunderbird Town Hardtop.

1966 was the end of the line for Ford Boxtops. As C-pillars increasingly began to flow directly into rear quarter panels, the discrete look of the Boxtop became an anarchism. The following years saw two competing trends take its place; the “sporty” fastback roof, and the “traditional luxury” wide C-pillar privacy roof that would eventually allow ample space for insertion of opera windows, a seventies craze spawned by the 1972 Lincoln Continental Mark IV.

3 thoughts on “Rise of the Boxtop

  1. Quintessential of the 1960s. Also applied on the UK’s Mk1 and more evidently Mk2 Ford Cortina. It wasn’t so obvious on Germany’s Taunuses, but still. It could be said that the boxtop inspired European designers well into the 1970s (Could Pininfarina’s Fiat 130 Coupe and Peugeot 604 be construed as boxtops?)

  2. Ford’s Boxtop indeed inspired many designers around the globe.

    The second-generation Cortina definitely had a Boxtop-esque roofline although the roof was not aesthetically divorced from the A-pillar at the top. In the case of the 130 Coupé, the C-pillar flowed right into the quarter panel with no trim strip dividing the two. I left off a few other near-boxtops, including the ’63 Pontiac Grand Prix, ’63 Buick Riviera, ’64 Buick Electra and ’65 Opel Diplomat Coupé.

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